Wednesday, February 17, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.36: Impurity & Emptiness Revisited

kesh'-aadin" aamedhya-gaNena puurNaM
tataH sa kaayaM samavekShamaaNaH
saaraM vicinty' aaNv api n' opalebhe

= = - = = - - = - = -
= = - = = - - = - = =
- = - = = - - = - = =
= = - = = - - = - = =

As full of skin, sinew, fat, blood, bone, and flesh,

And hair and a mass of other such unholy stuff,

He then observed the body to be;

He looked into its essential reality,
and found not even an atom.

Looking into the essential reality of a human body, what is to be found?

Descartes, if I remember rightly, thought that the pineal gland was important.

Neuro-boffins of recent times drone on endlessly about the amygdala.

My old teacher Gudo Nishijima thought that the two branches of the autonomic nervous system, and the hypothalamus, were very important. To be fair to him, however, what he emphasized as all-important was balance of these two branches of the autonomic nervous system.

FM Alexander observed to be of primary importance the manner in which a person used hs head in relation to the neck and the head and neck in relation to the rest of the organism. Consequently, people of scant understanding point to the atlanto-occipital joints, where the skull sits on the spine, as being the seat of what Alexander termed "the primary control" of the human organism.

Whereas the pineal gland, the amygdala, indeed the whole of the brain including the autonomic nervous system, as well as joints, ligaments, bones, muscles, and the rest, are all anatomical structures, made up of atoms, what wise men through the ages have found to be of primary importance, it seems to me, is what can never be reduced to atoms. What is of primary importance, in short, is not atomic structures per se, but rather balance in how atomic structures relate to each other.

So the essence of a Buddha-ancestor, Dogen tells us in the opening paragraph of Shobogenzo is balance in accepting and using the self.

To those who would like to put on the thick-lensed spectacles of reductionism and pick out from the morass of unholy stuff those atoms that are particularly important in the achievement of balance in accepting and using the self... good luck to them. Maybe they will succeed where Nanda failed. And pigs might fly.

So in conclusion, when we sit and look into the essential reality of a body sitting, what is there? To list off the top of our head Buddhist buzz-words like "emptiness" and "non-self," might not be it. If we glibly say that nothing is essential, in a nihilistic manner, that might not be it. That nothing is essential might not be it, but what is really essential might be a bit of nothing.

I think this is why Ashvaghosha tells us that aNv api n' opalebhe, "he found not even an atom."

For anybody who would like to read up on the true meaning of "shuunyataa" (emptiness), I wouldn't touch with a barge pole the attempts by latter-day Mahayana commentators to interpet the teachings of Nagarjuna et al. The first book I would recommend seekers of emptiness to put on their Amazon wish-list, would be one of the four books written by FM Alexander.

EH Johnston:
Then seeing the body to be but an impure aggregate of skin, sinew, fat, blood, bone, flesh, hair etc., and reflecting on its substance, he did not perceive even the minutest (real substance) in it.

Linda Covill:
Then he perceived that the body was filled with a host of impurities such as skin, sinew, fat, blood, bone, flesh, and hair; and in reflecting on its substance, he found not even an atom that was real.

tvak = tvac: f. skin
snaayu: fn. any sinew or ligament in the human and animal body , tendon , muscle , nerve , vein
medo = medas: n. fat , marrow , lymph
rudhira: n. blood
asthi: n. a bone
maaMsa: n. flesh, meat

kesha: m. the hair of the head ; the mane
aadina = inst. sg. aadi: m. (ifc.) beginning with , et caetera , and so on
amedhya-gaNena = inst. sg. amedhya-gaNa: a host of impurities
amedhya: mfn. not able or not allowed to sacrifice , not fit for sacrifice , impure , unholy , nefarious , foul ; n. faeces, excrement
medhya: mfn. (fr. medha) full of sap , vigorous , fresh , mighty , strong ; fit for a sacrifice or oblation , free from blemish (as a victim) , clean , pure , not defiling (by contact or by being eaten) ;
medha: m. the juice of meat , broth , nourishing or strengthening drink; marrow (esp. of the sacrificial victim) , sap , pith , essence ; a sacrificial animal , victim ; an animal-sacrifice , offering , oblation , any sacrifice
gaNa: m. a flock , troop , multitude , number
puurNam (acc. sg. m.): filled , full , filled with or full of (instr. or gen. or comp.)

tataH: ind. from that, thence
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
kaayam (acc. sg.): m. body
samavekShamaaNaH = nom. sg. m. pres. part samavekSh: to look at , behold , observe , perceive , notice ; to reflect or ponder on , consider , mind , heed

saaram: (acc. sg.): mn. the core or pith or solid interior of anything ; energy ; the substance or essence or marrow or cream or heart or essential part of anything ; the real meaning , main point ; a chief-ingredient or constituent part of the body
vicintya = abs. vi- √cint: to perceive , discern , observe ; to think of , reflect upon , ponder , consider , regard , mind , care for ; to find out , devise , investigate
aNu: m. an atom of matter; ind. minutely
api: (emphatic) even, [not] a single
na: not
upalebhe = 3rd pers. perfect upa-√labh: to seize , get possession of , acquire , receive , obtain , find ; to perceive

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